Saudi Arabia is next battleground for e-commerce titans

Shoppers take a stroll through Riyadh's Kingdom Centre Shopping Mall. The Kingdom is being targeted by global e-commerce corporations. (Getty Images)
Updated 18 May 2018

Saudi Arabia is next battleground for e-commerce titans

  • KSA online sales expected to surge to $13.9 billion by 2021
  • Overall GCC e-commerce to grow to $24 billion by end of decade

The battle for Saudi Arabia’s online shoppers is on.

One year on from the Amazon-Souq deal, the Kingdom's youthful population is being increasingly targeted by the region's burgeoning e-commerce industry.

With the largest economy in the GCC and the youngest Internet-connected population in the world, the Kingdom represents a golden goose for the world’s online retail players.

Online sales in Saudi Arabia are expected to surge to $13.9 billion by 2021 from about $8.7 billion in 2017, according to market researcher BMI.

The overall GCC e-commerce market is now tipped to grow to $24 billion by the end of the decade, say management consultancy A.T. Kearney.

UAE-born Souq.com, which was acquired by Amazon in 2017, has already built up a following and brand relationships in Saudi Arabia since its launch in 2005.
After months of delays, Noon.com also launched in the Saudi market in December last year, after starting up in the UAE earlier in the year.

Investors in Noon.com, including Emaar chairman Mohamed Alabbar and Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, have put $1 billion into the project.

Saudi Arabia offers great scope for retail players looking to expand said Sam Blatteis, CEO of The MENA Catalysts and ex-Google head of Gulf government affairs.

As he puts it: “The Kingdom’s population has already expanded 50 percent since the start of the millennium, and has the highest YouTube and Twitter usage on earth. At this point, the pace of change has never been this fast, and yet it will never be this slow again.”

He said: “Tech titans from the world’s two largest economies – China and Silicon Valley – are signaling they plan to expand in Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom’s 2030 vision is only 12 years away and Saudi’s ‘Generation Y’ leadership is increasingly running the country. They are moving mountains to overhaul strategic industries from transportation to education legalizing ride-hailing apps to rolling out coding classes in schools nationally.”

As competition heats up in the marketplace and more players join the fray, trends will lean to specialization, said Monica Peart, senior forecasting director at E-Marketer.

“As more local e-commerce players arrive on the scene, you will start to see price competition and product competition. They will start to specialize, which will engender even more e-commerce activity,” added Peart.

But for e-commerce to really take off in Saudi Arabia and the wider GCC, shoppers “must be able to find better goods online than on the local shelves," said Peart.

She added: "For this scenario to become a reality, the region will need to ramp up its last-mile services, time-to-delivery, online ranges and its choice of payment gateways."

According to Walid Mansour, managing partner at Middle East Venture Partners (MEVP), which has investment in several e-commerce related ventures, including last-mile delivery company One Click, “e-commerce is growing at a very fast pace but faces challenges.”

Mansour highlights lack of data analytics as a key hindrance to the market. “What’s needed to boost the online commerce market is data, including predictive data, which leads to insights for actions, as well as automated marketing services,” he said. “But of course, there are a lot of (e-commerce) players in the market now, which means there is a lot of growth potential. The market is getting better … but it’s not there yet.”


‘The stock market, stupid’ — Trump’s claim is looking hollow 

Updated 29 October 2020

‘The stock market, stupid’ — Trump’s claim is looking hollow 

  • The timing of the Wall Street downturn is the worst possible for the incumbent, who has declared every new peak in the S&P as a personal victory throughout his presidency
  • The likes of Apple, Amazon, Alphabet and Facebook are due to declare their earnings for the third quarter, and how those numbers are received could give the indices a boost

Before the US election of 1992, candidate Bill Clinton summed up what he saw as the reason he would become president: “It’s the economy, stupid.” He was proved right as voters disowned the economic policies of President George H.W. Bush in their droves to elect Clinton. 

Until the COVID-19 pandemic began to ravage the US economy in March, President Donald Trump would have been able to make the same claim. For the four years of his presidency, the US economy had continued the progress initiated by his predecessor to recover from the 2009 global financial crisis.

By most measures — growth, employment, inflation — the Trump years had been good, and those on the top of the pile had even more reason to be grateful thanks to the big tax cuts he had made a flagship policy.

The pandemic changed all that in the space of a few weeks as lockdown measures shocked the economy. Jobless claims soared to all-time records, bankruptcies and closures affected large swathes of American business, and gross domestic product collapsed. The International Monetary Fund forecasts that the American economy will shrink by 4.3 percent this year.

But Trump could still claim instead that “it’s the stock market, stupid” as a reason he could be re-elected. Mainly because of the trillions of dollars injected into the economy in the form of fiscal stimulus, US share indices had swum against the economic tide.

The S&P 500 index hit an all-time high in September, allowing Trump to boast that under his administration, investors and the millions of people whose livelihoods depended on the financial industry had never had it so good.

Now, it looks as though even that final claim is looking more fragile. For the past couple of days, US and European stock markets have gone into reverse as investors took fright at the rising number of COVID-19 cases and the re-imposition of economic lockdowns in many countries.

Trump might argue, with a little justification, that Wall Street is worried about the prospect of Joe Biden being elected president by the end of next week. Certainly the contender, by definition, is something of an unknown quantity in terms of economic policy.

He is also known to favor some policies — such as tighter regulation on environmental sectors, more spending on health care, and higher taxes for federal services and projects — that have traditionally been regarded as contrary to the philosophy of “free market” America.

In particular, the energy industry is worried about possible restrictions on shale oil and gas production that Biden and his “green” team are believed to favor. However, it should be pointed out that the Democratic candidate has specifically said he will not ban shale fracking, as some environmentalists want.

In any interesting side-story, the state of Texas — one of the biggest in terms of electoral college votes — would seem to have more to lose than any other if the energy scare stories about Biden were true. Yet the contest there between Democrats and Republicans is the closest it has been for decades, according to opinion polls.

The timing of the Wall Street downturn is the worst possible for the incumbent, who has declared every new peak in the S&P as a personal victory throughout his presidency and a sign of his deal-doing prowess. If even this claim is denied to him in the final week of campaigning, it would make the uphill battle against the polls even more difficult.

There is a chance that Big Tech might offer some relief. The likes of Apple, Amazon, Alphabet and Facebook are due to declare their earnings for the third quarter, and how those numbers are received could give the indices a boost, given that they were the ones largely responsible for the big market gains earlier in the year.

But for Trump, any such respite might be too little, too late. It looks as though Wall Street and Main Street are finally catching up in their gloom, and there is nothing the president can do about it.